Malt and Cod Liver Oil does not seem to have been a feature of many people’s childhoods, but it was a big, sticky boke-inducing part of mine. In Belfast in the early 1960s, we were served a heaped spoonful on Saturday nights. My mother sat on the closed seat of the toilet and spooned it into us after bathtime as we stood trapped and shivering in the bathroom, wrapped in towels. I hated the taste of it and the way the foul-tasting treacle stuck to the roof of my mouth and in between my teeth. Perhaps there was no benefit to the tonic other than to ensure we all cleaned our teeth thoroughly at least once a week?
We had a bath on a Saturday night in order to be clean for church the next morning. My mother put a pour of Dettol in the water to kill any germs. Since the three of us were often bathed together, and only once a week, this was probably just as well. After the malt and a brisk toweling (these were pre-Bounce days and towels were dried to Pita Chip stiffness either on the line or over a clothes horse by a bar heater) the Cackler and I sat around in brushed nylon nighties having our hair done. My brother wore our hand-me-down pyjamas, the cuffs already chewed for his convenience. I don’t think his hair was tortured in any way. He might even have been allowed to go to bed with it wet. After the Dettol and the Malt and Cod Liver Oil it was obvious no cold could catch him.
As our hair was pinned and brushed and curled, the Cackler and I were tested on the words of the hymn or bible reading we needed to know for Sunday school the next morning. If the Eurovision song contest or Miss World was on, we got to stay up to see it, lying in sleeping bags on the living room floor until Katie Boyle and Michael Aspel bade all of us goodnight.
Earlier on Saturday evenings we had French toast for tea, with Lyle’s Golden Syrup. We ate it in the living room while we watched Daktari. When you think about it, between the Malted Molasses and the syrup its amazing our teeth aren’t black stumps.